Manitoba·Point of View

Candace Derksen's mother pens an open letter to families of murder victims

Dear Family, I know this is not a journey you ever wanted to make......I hope Candace House can make it easier.

Newly opened Candace House is now a 'safe place' to escape the pain, Wilma Derksen writes

Wilma Derksen reaches out to other families of murder victims. (Julianne Runne/CBC, Graphic treatment: Jamie Hopkins/CBC)

Dear Family,

I know this is not a journey you ever wanted to make … I hope Candace House can make it easier.

Looking back on the murder of our daughter, I just remember the nightmare of 33 years. I remember the first time I was called the "parent of a murdered child." My identity had changed. Everything changed.

My world, which had been so safe, normal and fun, had turned into this strange wilderness with wild animals, dry heat and no road map.

Suddenly after experiencing a crime, I found myself needing a completely different set of tools to survive a new world I didn't know existed.

You too may find it's like entering a new land without your passport in hand or a reliable translator.

You may find yourself inhabited by a volcanic set of emotions. Sometimes it is fear. Then it's anger, frustration and extreme irritability. Sometimes it's sadness — a longing for the way things were.

Candace Derksen was just 13 when she was murdered in November 1984. (Family photo/Graphic treatment: Jamie Hopkins/CBC)

As you journey through this new land, you might find yourself obsessed with a deep longing for justice — for some outside authority that has the capacity to set it all right again. This often leads to incredible disappointment that everything is failing you and it will never be the same.

When we thought of creating Candace House, our main objective was to create a safe place that puts you the victim first. Much of the legal system is focused on the wider society's need for safety and control. They are looking after the perpetrator — and rightfully so — but in all of this there needs to be someone looking after the needs of you, the victim.

During those early years after our daughter's death, all I remember was my need to find something safe. My world had turned hostile and I needed to regain a sense of safety.  

I found myself looking for a safe liaison to help us communicate with police. The process of investigation seemed cruel and heartless at times.

I looked for a safe support group — people of like experience to share my story with, so that I wouldn't feel as if I was going crazy.

Wilma Derksen is honorary director of Candace House, named in memory of her daughter Candace, who was murdered in 1984. (Julianne Runne/CBC, Graphic treatment: Jamie Hopkins/CBC)

I needed help to deal with the concept of a mysterious murderer — some person within our neighborhood who had intentionally murdered our daughter.

Who would do such a thing?

Our whole world view shifted.

How do you deal with antisocial people who intentionally break all the rules?

How do you restore justice or even a sense of justice?

Then after a person was arrested, I needed someone safe to ask my dumb questions about the process and not make me feel ignorant.

During the legal proceedings, I needed a safe place away from the law courts, a kind of home away from home. After a stressful day in the oak-trimmed marble halls and rooms of the court building, I needed something homey to offset the feeling of isolation, physically and emotionally.

Candace House will offer a safe escape from the daunting halls of the courts. (Graphic treatment: Jamie Hopkins/CBC)

My dream was to establish a house that would understand all of this — and thanks to the efforts of many excellent, devoted people who saw this need, Candace House is now a reality.

We want Candace House to be a safe place for you. A safe place for all those extremely important conversations that need to happen. A safe place to escape the courts and become a home away from home. A place filled with resources to help you navigate the systems. A place to hang out with those who understand you and your new story.

Finally, my hope for you, dear family, is this that after you have survived your journey back to health — which now might feel like an impossible dream — you will be able to look back and feel it was filled with new learnings, new friends and supportive people, who were on your side throughout.

My hope is that your happiness will not disappear, but deepen with new understandings.

Respectfully yours,

Wilma Derksen​

In November 1984, Wilma and Cliff Derksen's daughter Candace, 13, went missing while walking home from school. Her body was discovered 6½ weeks later. As of November 2018, no one is convicted in connection with her homicide. On Nov. 27, Candace House — a support centre for families of homicide victims — officially opens its doors.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Wilma Derksen is the Honorary Director of Candace House, a day respite centre for families of homicide victims. Derksen's daughter Candace was 13 years old when she was murdered in Winnipeg, in 1984.